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"Stop using Gerald's name and legacy", Lee Durrell urges Zoo critics

Wednesday 20 March 2024

"Stop using Gerald's name and legacy", Lee Durrell urges Zoo critics

Wednesday 20 March 2024

The widow of beloved conservationist Gerald Durrell OBE has broken her silence amid ongoing scrutiny of Jersey Zoo, after it was revealed today that a campaign to oust the trustees and investigate the running of the charity he founded was approaching its culmination.

Giving her strong backing to the senior team, Lee Durrell MBE, who is an Honorary Director of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, tonight urged detractors to “stop using Gerald Durrell’s name and legacy to justify their criticisms” and said that the resulting instability "could result in dire consequences for the Durrell we all love".

Her comments, which were accompanied by a statement from the Trust and its Interim CEO, came just hours after Express reported that a group including past employees concerned about animal welfare and working culture at Jersey Zoo were on the cusp of officially calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting after more than six months of talks with senior officials collapsed.

Amid concerns of an impasse, that group began collecting signatures at the start of this year to support an EGM.

Talks collapse

In February, UK mediators were parachuted into the island to hold a session with the group and members of the board of trustees to help resolve their ongoing concerns around governance of the Trust, staff welfare, animal welfare and species choices at Jersey Zoo.

However, the mediation process fell apart when a solution could not be agreed.

Durrell did not confirm how much this had cost the charity following a request from Express.

Since mediation collapsed, Express understands that more than 100 members have said they would support a call for an EGM where members can vote on a motion calling for the current board of trustees to resign.

The resolution due to be put forward by signatories reads: "The members have lost confidence in the ability of the Trustees to protect and maintain the legacy of Gerald Durrell. We call for the resignation of the board and an independent investigation into all aspects of the current and recent management’s running of the zoo."

It comes in the same week that the imminent departure of Jersey Zoo's Operations Director, Graeme Dick, was confirmed – marking the fourth high-profile departure in recent months, alongside former CEO Lesley Dickie, Head of Mammals Dominic Wormell and Chair of the Board of Trustees Rob Kirkby.

"Correct procedures are in place"

Amid mounting pressure, Durrell tonight stressed that its Trustees "have been working with the group to address their concerns and demonstrate that Durrell takes staff and animal welfare incredibly seriously, and that the correct procedures are in place to deal with these matters".

The charity said that it welcomed an EGM, describing it as "an important opportunity to clarify the Trust’s position on these matters".


Pictured: Head of Mammals Dominic Wormell, whose departure last year sparked many of the concerns, with Mr Wormell himself saying that he was not happy with the charity's direction.

Interim Chief Executive Rebecca Brewer said she was "dedicated to finding a way forward that reassures everyone that the charity they know and love is still dedicated to Gerald Durrell’s original mission statement – ‘saving species from extinction’.”

Among the concerns raised by critics was that the charity founded by Gerald Durrell had allegedly lost its way, having introduced species to Jersey Zoo that were felt to be 'crowd-pleasers' rather than those in genuine need of support.

These included Guernsey goats, sloths and capybaras, and led to coverage in The Times, which suggested there had been a 'Disney-fication' of the operation. However, the charity maintained that a mix of animals was important to support its commercial operation, which underpins its global conservation efforts.


Pictured: The departure of CEO Lesley Dickie was confirmed shortly after the publication of the article by The Times.

Ms Brewer made the point again tonight.

"The mix of species at Jersey Zoo has always been a balancing act, and we strive to find the right balance between species that we work with in the wild and those that will educate and inspire. We recognise the importance of sharing our plans and involving staff in the planning process for species choices at the Zoo," she said.

"Gerry would have been deeply saddened"

Responding to the calls, Lee Durrell MBE asked critics to stop using her husband's name to justify their criticisms, but acknowledged that Gerald himself encouraged constructive criticism of the institution he set up.

She commented: “Healthy debate about management decisions and strategic direction of any organisation is to be welcomed – Gerald Durrell himself encouraged constructive criticism of the zoo.

"In recent months, however, the concerns raised, albeit well-intentioned, have infused the debates with diverse agendas and unyielding opinions, which have had a negative impact on stability and morale at Jersey Zoo, and could result in dire consequences for the Durrell we all love.

“I therefore ask those people to stop using Gerald Durrell’s name and legacy to justify their criticisms. Whatever outcomes they seek, Gerry would have been deeply saddened to see the damage done to the Trust to which he gave his name and dedicated his life."

Board "highly committed"

She went on to give her strong backing to the "dedicated professionals" running Durrell, and its "highly committed Board of Trustees".

"Together, we are developing Gerry’s legacy to the world: his unique approach to wildlife conservation, integrating animal husbandry skills, scientific expertise and a long-term commitment to the animals, people and places we focus on, including Jersey Zoo," she said.

Once officially put forward, a requisition for an Extraordinary General Meeting would force Durrell to hold a meeting of members outside of its scheduled Annual General Meeting.

For this to happen, a requisition must be signed by no less than 0.5% of the total number of Members at that time or 60 Members. The meeting must then take place within 42 days. 

Follow Express for updates...


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